Failure to launch, Trump's first 100 days
The 45th President of the United States Donald John Trump has experienced little success thus far in his first 100 days in office. That reality is reflected in the president’s sad approval rating statistics. Of course, one might argue that the one hundred day threshold is an arbitrary benchmark.
In the Donald’s case, the realization of what the presidency entails had apparently come as a surprise to the nascent chief executive. Unlike running a private corporation in which a president or chairman can essentially rule by dictum and make unilateral decisions, a president must rightly contend with three coequal branches of government. Also, Trump’s preferred corporate management style of vying pugnacious power bases within his staff competing for his favor is antithetical to the operation of good government.
There have been pitfalls and pratfalls, some attributable to cabinet members who lack the Washington experience to effectuate their positions properly. Furthermore, this administration is far behind others at this point in filling a great number of positions in government that are essential to fulfilling necessary operations.
Other mistakes have been due to a lack of understanding on how the branches of government can be utilized to bring a presidential agenda to fruition. The administration’s haste to achieve certain goals expediently like the repeal of Obamacare and restricting immigration has failed miserably.
The president has expressed surprise at the complexities of these processes considering the Republican majorities in both houses of congress. He has demonized the courts for reviewing his executive orders. And, he has criticized his staff for being lackluster in performance.
Yet, he still has bewilderingly stated that his first 100 days have been a rousing success. To describe his first few months in office in that manner is wishful thinking. He has had some successes and many failures, but his presidency is young and hopefully he and his staff are learning. Moreover, three and one half months is merely a beginning of a four-year journey in which administrative skills may be honed and refined if Trump and his staff are open to change. Time will tell.
By 100 days in office, our 43rd President George W. Bush was a couple of weeks away from signing the No Child Left Behind education overhaul act into law. When his successor, our 44th President Barack H. Obama reached the benchmark he had already signed the $787 billion Stimulus bill into law.
Certainly, Obama was aided by the fact that his party controlled both houses of congress, but so does Donald Trump’s party. Still, the 100-day mark holds a relevance that it may not deserve. Our 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term as a partial fulfillment of his promise of a “New Deal” for all Americans. Roosevelt immediately set to work on instituting banking safeguards and his alphabet soup of government employment and social service programs to attempt to propel the country out of the depths of the Great Depression. Since his presidency, every president has faced this barometer of accomplishment unfair or not.
President Trump cannot escape the scrutiny either, although he does not believe it to be fair, referring to one hundred days as a “ridiculous standard.”
However, Trump had loudly proclaimed on the campaign stump in both July and August of 2016 that he would accomplish a wide-ranging agenda in the first three and one half months. In Gettysburg Pennsylvania in October of 2016, he named his short-term promises the “100 Day Action Plan.” He promised the alteration and renegotiation of international trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, a strengthening of our immigrant laws, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a change in the tax code including a dramatic lessening of the corporate tax, the start of construction of the Mexican/American border wall, and to rectify the Chinese currency manipulation as it effects Chinese/United States trade relationship. None of these grand assertions were accomplished.
What the Donald did not consider was that none of these promises will come to bear without the cooperation of an often fractious congress.
By executive order, Trump was able to withdraw the US from participating in the Trans Pacific Partnership, and he was able to approve the country’s allowance of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. On the contrary, when his executive order limiting the entrance of Middle-Easterners from entry into the US was stayed in the Court of Appeals twice, Trump was confounded by his inability to assert his will. He began to speak about dividing up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in order to usurp its jurisdictional power. Trump had said in reference to the presidency that he “thought the job would be easier.”
As a result of these failed efforts, the president’s approval rating has suffered. The latest CNN/ORC Poll has the president’s approval rating at 100 days at 44 percent. Real Clear Politics average of the seven top national polls has the rating at 41 percent. His two predecessors were as follows: George W. Bush was at 64 percent at the benchmark and Barack Obama was at 61 percent.
Why such a low rate of success? Part of the reasons is Trump’s management style. In the words of Trump’s best friend Tom Barrack, “He loves conflict, he manages through conflict. He surrounds himself with people who have various points of view and he pits them against each other. The end product is that he relies on his own talents and instincts.”
There are three competing power bases in the White House. First is the Manhattan base with Senior Adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner who heads the Office of American Innovation along with Special Assistant (and First Daughter) Ivanka Trump and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. Second are the hard right nationalists, Senior Strategist Steve Bannon and Senior Policy Adviser Steve Miller. Third are the establishment Republicans, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer. So without a traditional West Wing chain of command with the Chief of Staff at the helm beneath the president, the result is an often a chaotic and disjointed melee with inevitable conflicting policy messages.
Additionally, Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Bannon have no prior government or Washington experience. Especially, Bannon and Miller have been depicted as disagreeable and dictatorial to members of congress, which is no way to get Trump’s legislative agenda passed.
Nevertheless, with no significant legislation passed and overturned executive orders, the president paints a pleasant fiction about his first 100 days. “We have made incredible progress. I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected in this short period of time who has done what we’ve done” and “I turn on the TV, open the newspaper, and I see stories of chaos, chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine tuned machine.”
Despite that overreach, the president did manage to get Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch installed, he did order a measured and appropriate military strike in Syria, and he did reverse himself from his stated animosity toward China and is developing a solid relationship with their political leadership.
The 100-day threshold may in fact be an arbitrary and ludicrous measurement of the success of any presidency. What is important is that Donald Trump and his administration learn from their mistakes and take steps to correct the way they conduct themselves. First, the president should allow the chief of staff to actually act as one. The competition for power and favor needs to end within the cabinet. Second, he needs effective West Wing deputies to work with the legislative branch through persuasion not aggression. He should sent Steve Bannon on his way and all the remaining 450 vacant slots in government departments need to be filled in a quick concerted effort so effective governing can be realized. The state department alone has only 17 percent of its jobs filled after 100 days of the Trump administration.
Most essential is that the president must adopt a new paradigm of executive management, one which has a well defined chain of command. Also, increased sensibilities toward the congress must replace a dictatorial attitude. The president has to come to grips with the fact that the conference table at Trump Tower is drastically different than the one in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing.